To restore a car gives a great sense of accomplishment and a beautiful trophy at the end, but are you persistent enough to see it through? How long does it take, you ask? This is a simple question, but there’s no simple answer. It’s safe to say it will take longer than you expect.
Some people restore cars for the fun of it. Some, for the bragging rights. Some even restore them as investments. Whatever the reason, if you are thinking about restoring a car, know what you’re getting yourself into so you don’t end up with a sad, half-finished project taking up space in your garage for the next 10 years.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to get a sense of the investment it will take to restore an old car.
What is the condition of the car you want to restore?
If you’re restoring a vehicle that’s been roadworthy up to the current time, fixing it is likely to be relatively easy. You will be able to drive it to the shop, and the engine shouldn’t need a lot of work.
If, however, the car you want to restore has been sitting for many years or left outside in the elements, it may be a much bigger job. It will likely have significant rust that will need to be ground away. The fuel line, engine, and carburetor (if it has one) will probably require some heavy cleaning. And you can expect every piece of rubber and upholstery to need to be replaced.
If the car has been in one or more severe accidents, there may be a lot of work necessary in addition to the visible body damage to repair. The entire frame may be bent, which would create a lot of extra work for you.
Which of the original components do you want to keep?
For many auto restorationists and collectors, original components are a must. This is often more important than everything being in mint condition. But whatever parts you restore, they at least need to be in working order.
Repairing old parts can be costly and time-consuming. In some cases, components you must replace, such as gaskets, may not be readily available. Hopefully, someone somewhere has listed them on their website.
Once you locate all the parts needed, the restoration work can also be incredibly time-consuming. Disassembling an engine, cleaning it, replacing needed parts, and then reassembling and recalibrating everything to get it running again can take 100 hours or more by itself.
As we mentioned earlier about the vehicle's condition, it’s likely that many original parts may be far out of working order. The question is, then, is the trouble of trying to restore them worth the effort and cost instead of replacing them with new parts? Even then, they still may not be salvageable.
How easy is it to find the parts?
The 1971 Chevrolet Corvette LS6 is one of the most unique and valuable classic cars in the world, mainly because only 188 of them were ever made. Good luck finding the parts if you’re trying to restore one of these.
Even with more widely produced cars, it may be challenging to locate working parts if they’re old enough that they’ve been out of production for a while. You may get lucky and find older parts at a local store or dealership. If not, you’ll have to track them down online or rummage through boneyards. Both routes can be time-consuming.
If you can’t find a part anywhere, you may find yourself in the world of custom parts. And this can become both time-consuming and expensive.
What tools do you have?
Most people who work on their cars have a good set of tools, including a nice ratchet set, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, lights, a jack, a sander, etc.
But completely restoring a car makes life so much easier if you have a few more specialized tools.
- Air compressor - The power source for many tools in a mechanic’s shop used to restore cars, such as grinders, impact wrenches, and paint sprayers.
- Grinder - This tool cuts and smooths metal and even removes rust. There are other ways to accomplish these tasks, but not as efficiently.
- Impact wrench - This is a mainstay of all mechanic shops because it saves so much time cranking socket wrenches and fighting with stubborn bolts.
- Welder - Depending on the work that needs to be done on your restoration, it’s possible you won’t need a welder, but they’re nice to have on hand if you know how to use them.
- Surface conditioning tool - This will make removing rust and paint from your vehicle's body much easier.
- Engine hoist - Definitely a single-use tool, but hard to live without if you need to pull the engine out of your vehicle.
- Hydraulic lift - Not everyone has access to a hydraulic lift, but they make specific jobs much easier. If you don’t have access to one, a floor jack is nice to have.
What will your schedule look like?
When you know how many man-hours your project will take, think about how much time you’re likely to have every week to spend on it.
Is this going to be just a weekend thing? Will you have a few hours every night to spend on it? Be realistic about this. Do you have a family or other responsibilities? Do you hope to have a social life? Are you counting on help from someone else? What if they lose their dedication halfway through?
Now, let’s do a little math. If you estimate it will take 1,000 man-hours to complete the job, and you have 20 hours a week to work on it, the job will take you 50 weeks to complete. That’s almost an entire year. If you have someone willing to put in the same amount of time, that cuts it down to six months. And remember, any time you take off from working on it, you’ll have to tack onto the end.
Why restore a car?
The bottom line is that restoring a car is hard work and takes a lot of time. You’ll make mistakes and have to redo things. You’ll bang your head and cut your hands. You’ll have bolts that won’t come loose, and you won’t be able to make progress until you figure out a way.
The details will seem endless, and you’ll forget how to reassemble what you’ve taken apart. There will be times you don’t even want to look at it. But if you love the effort and are determined enough, it can be one of the most rewarding projects you have ever completed.
Schneider Auto Body can help.
Remember, when you’re working to restore a car, there’s no shame in getting a little help. If you find yourself stuck or are not set up to tackle the final paint job, and you live in the Salt Lake City area, let us know. We have the experience and the equipment to get the job done right. Contact us for a free estimate today.